Monday, November 1, 2010

The Team You Love To Hate... For Now

As we are one week and four games into the LeBron James Era in Miami, I thought I'd check off the key points so far from the team that's going to ensure the NBA's regular season does not pass without notice. (And yay for that, really. What with the lockout and nuclear winter and thermonuclear war and Swine Flu and Tea Partiers and Socialism all on their way, it's nice to be present to something before we're all reduced to speaking Esperanto and living in dumpsters, fighting off zombies, and wondering where it all went wrong. In other news, I'm worried about the elections. Moving on.)

> Y'all are watching them. The opening night game had the biggest ratings ever for a regular season game, with 7.4 million viewers going for it. Of course, there's the reasonable chance that those numbers were skewed by the World Series not having the big market teams this year, or the Fox Cablevision Armageddon that made them the only game in town for the 3 million NY/NJ residents, but still. Bigger than Shaq v. Kobe on Christmas Day is impressive, really.

> A simple question to everyone who wants to keep going on about how poor Cleveland got jobbed here... have you ever lived in Cleveland? Or been there? Where does that proud municipality rank on your bucket list of places to visit? How much would it take for a new day job to pay for you to move there? Is there a single reason, beyond gobs and gobs of money, that would make you want to go there?

I'll take your answers in the form of dead silence. Expecting anyone, even a quasi-native like James, to want to stay here out of their own free will is insanity. (And yes, I've been, to catch a baseball game in the mid-80s. It was, well, better than Detroit. And that's about all I can say for it.)

> The most amusing thing to me about this team is how Celtic and Laker Fan is convinced that his laundry just got more lovable. Sure, because the rest of the Association's fans, after playing the equivalent role of Poland to the Celto/Laker German/Russian situation for the past half century, is just going to forget about all of that and boo a team with fans that they've never actually met, because no Heat fan has ever ventured outside of South Florida. It's absurd on its face.

Look, kids, I'll explain this slowly. To hate a team in the Internet, Free Agency and Fantasy Sports Era, you pretty much need to hate its history, or its fans. Hating the players is just too transitory. Take the Lakers, for instance. You could hate Shaq for the way he just bullied his way to ugly wins, his fold routine in playoff series where his teams don't get off on the right track, his Mumbly Joe interviews, or a half dozen other reasons, really... but then he's gone, and you've got to go hate the Heat, Suns, Cavs, Celtics or whoever, even when his game becomes a shell of itself. When Kobe Bryant is gone, I will still hate the Lakers. When one of the Celtic dinosaurs moves on at some wildly inflated price for the new Green Oppressor, I will pretty much stop hating the dinosaur and keep hating the Celtics. You don't wipe away decades of ill will just because some 20-somethings decided to form Basketball Voltron.

> James seems serious about this assist thing, but it's not like he's taking a subservient role. It's more like he's picking and choosing the numbers he wants to get on a given night, the way that we presume Wilt Chamberlain did when he decided to lead the league in assists. Unlike Wilt, James isn't doing this out of boredom or to prove some point about not caring about stats (while, of course, he's caring about stats)... I really do think he's doing this because he feels like he has to. And that's a big deal, really, if only because it might lead to a better situation for this team later, when the games go to half court and turnovers get very important.

> Chris Bosh has to adjust the most, and might not adjust at all. Never a defensive hammer, the ex-Raptor is still trying to figure out his role in the midst of this unique collection of talent, and he's plainly bewildered at times. In the Celtics game, he was terrible. Against the Sixers, he did a Dale Davis low-ceiling big man impersonation. Against the Magic, he looked better but still out of sorts. And in Sunday's clowning of the Nets, he finally had a good shooting night, but rebounded like the ball had HIV.

I don't know what's wrong with him, or if this is just a feeling out process until he starts finding his spots and his role. But it's not like he's making anyone forget Pau Gasol out there, or any of the other skilled big men that are going to attack him relentlessly in a grinding playoff series.

> Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is managing minutes. In blowouts, like Sunday night's clowning of the Nets, the starters were out early and often, and while part of that is just making sure you don't create an injury situation in a four games in six nights stint to start the year, it's still telling for fantasy owners. Volume is not going to be your friend this year in Miami.

> Like James' past teams in Cleveland, they will win an awful lot of regular season games. Even when they looked horrible against the Celtics on opening day (and by the way, the fact that the Cs lost the next night in Cleveland, and already have injury issues among the bigs that are causing them to reach deep into the bench for fouls and minutes, is Very Telling Indeed), they were still within three points in the fourth quarter in what might the most inhospitable environment in the NBA. (Top five for that? Utah, Oklahoma City, Denver, Boston and the Lakers. Utah's got the meanest fans, OKC the loudest, Denver's got altitude and volume, and the Celtics and Lakers have mystique. Everyone else in the league, by the way, is about as scary as riding in the back seat without a seat belt.) Assuming health, which is a very big assumption, they are winning 3 out of every 4 games this year in the regular season. The playoffs, however, are another matter.

> And to everyone who wants to declare this a dead experiment, or is convinced that it can't possibly work because the flow hasn't been all that great yet or because they laid such an egg in Boston... for heaven's sake, it's four games. Three of them wins, two of them blowouts, and one of which was an evisceration of the Orlando Magic, which might also be a 60-win club. The Heat aren't at full strength -- when Mike Miller comes in to give them their best three point shooter, that's going to be big -- and they have't really figured out their defensive switches.

So that's the first week. 78 games to go before we find out whether this was all worth it. And I hope you won't mind too terribly if I pay more attention to them than, say, my laundry (the Sixers). It's just a wee bit more interesting, really.

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